Sweden: On the "Millennium Trilogy" trail

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Tourists in Stockholm have been flocking recently to a walking tour that promises some of the city’s better-known sights: tidy cobblestone streets, bustling coffee-scented cafes, hilltop views of the capital’s old quarter — and the corner 7-Eleven stocked with microwavable pizzas.

That last stop, ignored or overlooked by most of Stockholm, is of particular importance.

The nondescript convenience store at the corner of Gotgatan and Svartensgatan plays a part in the fictional life of the tattooed computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, star of Stieg Larsson’s internationally acclaimed "Millennium Trilogy."

The crime novels have sold millions of copies both in Europe and the United States, making Salander and her partner, investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, as recognizable as classic Swedish children’s book character Pippi Longstocking (the author of those books, Astrid Lindgren, has a whole museum devoted to her in the Swedish capital). For now, Stieg Larsson, whose books were first published five years ago, just has tours.

“We would have still come here if it weren’t for the books but they certainly enhanced the trip,” said American tourist John Kennedy, who was in town to watch a U.S. professional hockey game.

“I loved it,” he said of the Millennium Trilogy tour offered by the Stockholm City Museum.

The excursion weaves together the plots of the three novels, the history of Stockholm and the life of Larsson, who drew heavily from his surroundings and days on Sodermalm.

The narrow streets and steep hills of the southern island provide a key backdrop for the crime novels. It is also where Larsson lived. Sodermalm, once home to working-class neighborhoods of Stockholm, has gentrified in recent years to include trendy bars and fashionable shops.

“This was a poor separate city filled with workers,” said tour guide Alexander Cavalieratos, who has led 50 or so tours about the books. “But nowadays this is, of course, part of the central city.”

On a recent Saturday afternoon, Cavalieratos had to turn away roughly a dozen sightseers wanting to join the tour after tickets sold out. He offered to take on three extra tourists, forcing them to draw lots out of a tourist's baseball hat for the spots.

Cavalieratos said the attendance of tourists of different nationalities had spiked whenever the third book in the trilogy was translated into a new language.

Along the way, Cavalieratos pointed out the cafe where both Larsson and his character Blomkvist worked and sipped coffee, where both of the men’s offices were located (one real and the other fictional) and where Blomkvist is said to be living, the attic apartment at 1 Bellmansgatan.

“The really funny thing is there is a Mikael Blomkvist living at number 1 Bellmansgatan. It’s kind of strange,” he said in a low voice to surprised giggles from the crowd.

Cavalieratos attributed Larsson’s celebrity to the novels’ strong writing and memorable characters. The author’s abrupt death prior to their publication also fueled the aura surrounding his works.

“It makes his authorship mythical,” he said. “This tour might be a pilgrimage of sorts. And also at the same time you get to know the city.”

The tourists, clutching maps and sporting backpacks, agreed.

“It was the only thing I wanted to do when I got here,” said Linda Gustafson, an American tourist visiting family in Sweden and one of the lucky three who won a spot through the lottery. “I’m just so invested in these books. It’s just a great mystery.”

“It’s a strange team that Lis and Mikael make,” chimed in Canadian traveler Nadia Boshyk. “I think [Larsson] just told a great story.”

Larsson, a journalist and political activist, never saw any of the money or praise garnered from the novels. In 2004, he suffered a heart attack and died at age 50, a year before the first book in the series was published.

Swedish-version films of the books have already been released to similar success. Not to be outdone, Hollywood is working on its own adaptations, the first of which began filming this month in the capital and Uppsala, a university town about an hour’s drive north of Stockholm.

Ann-Charlotte Jonsson, spokeswoman for the Stockholm Visitors Board, said visits to the capital increased 6 percent this past summer when compared to summer 2009, but she said it is difficult to pinpoint one reason for the uptick.

Besides Larsson’s growing popularity, the royal wedding of Crown Princess Victoria in June and the naming of Stockholm as the winner of the European Green Capital Award have all raised the profile of the city.

“All three of those things have put Stockholm in the limelight,” she said.

IF YOU GO: The two-hour, English-language Millennium Tour starts Saturdays at 11:30 a.m., departing from 1 Bellmansgatan. Tickets are 120 Swedish kronor, about $18, and can be bought at the Stockholm City Museum, the Stockholm Tourist Center, or online at www.ticnet.se. Travelers can also purchase a map of the tour’s route for 40 kronor, about $6, at the Stockholm City Museum or the Stockholm Tourist Center.